Utah Power has been in the cattle ranching business for more than two decades, but some northern Utah ranchers think it's time to clamp down on the electric company.

The ranchers question how the regulated utility can be allowed to horn in on their business and say the electric giant is using ratepayers' money to compete against them."They're selling cattle on the market against me. I can't compete against them in power," said Arthur Douglas, a Howell rancher who is vice president of the Utah Farmers Union, which has adopted a resolution opposing public utilities entering the agriculture business.

Douglas said subsidized competition is the last thing farmers need. The cattle business is tough enough without it.

The power company got into agriculture for environmental reasons, said Utah Power spokesman Dave Eskelsen. It provides a way for the company to dispose of the water used to cool the turbines at its two coal-fired power plants in Emery County.

Federal regulations prohibit the water from being returned to streams, so rather than build an evaporation pond, the company uses the water to irrigate its farmland, which produces alfalfa and hay. Since the company had hay, the next step, Eskelsen said, was to raise cattle to eat the crop.

Utah Power has been operating farms, still dubbed "experimental," for more than 20 years on 750 acres at the Huntington Canyon and Hunter plants. It has 800 head of cattle in Box Elder and Sevier counties and is expanding its herd, Eskelsen said.

He said the farms save Utah Power some $8 million a year in water disposal costs.

But many ranchers say Utah Power is out of its element.

"Why are they in the cattle business?" asks Tim Munns, who owns a ranch near the company's Box Elder operation. "They'll be in direct competition with private family size farms."

Douglas suggests the company lease its land and hay to a farmer who "knows what he's doing."